If your budget doesn't balance, don't fear. There are places to cut back without dramatically altering your lifestyle. There are some telltale areas in a budget where many people overspend.
You'll probably find more room in your budget in the variable expenses category, but check out your fixed expenses. Could you refinance your mortgage for a lower monthly payment? Do you really need 400 channels and a pricey satellite TV bill? As for variable expenses, perhaps you'd feel comfortable eating out one night less per month. Or maybe you could rent movies more often and cut back your visits to the theatre.
Elizabeth Jetton, a certified financial planner with Financial Vision Advisors in Atlanta, Georgia, says all families have something of a black hole where money seems to vanish each month. She suggests the following areas to watch:
- Too much cash. If you carry less, you may spend less. "People spend whatever cash they have and they can't remember what they spent it on, like too many lattes or fast food items they wouldn't buy if they didn't have cash," Jetton says.
- Too much food. Jetton says many families spend excessively on groceries and eating out. Are you? If you tend to throw out a lot of food because you end up ordering a pizza instead of cooking, spend less at the supermarket on meals that never get prepared.
- Too many gifts. Or perhaps the gifts are too expensive. "We overspend for weddings, Christmas, or someone's birthday. Set limits and be creative," Jetton says. Many people enjoy a personal card as much as an expensive gift.
- Too much mall or shopping time. Jetton says when there's nothing else to do, many of us head to the mall. You'd be better off going to the movies, she says, because you won't spend as much. Or find other ways to enjoy yourself that don't involve spending money.
"The most important choices we make are the day-to-day choices about how we spend our money," says Jetton. "It should be our priority because it's what affects our ability to reach our long-term goals."
Continued on page 4: Budget Worksheet